‘Peter Bayliss and the Breatharians’

The obituary in The Telegraph, in 2002, said: “He wanted no memorial, but his near-lunatic appetite for life will be impossible to forget.” The poet Heathcote Williams certainly remembers Peter Bayliss. He remembers, too, “the Bayliss Mischief” that “might still be working / From beyond the grave.” Here given their due are the vaunted philanthropic celebrities of our time (Karl Marx aside), memorialized for their various hypocrisies: Bill Gates, Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Mother Theresa, Lady Gaga, Bob Geldof, not to mention the millionaire pols, and of course Bono, who “had the nerve / To sing Blake’s Jerusalem / At Glastonbury / While his bodyguards / Beat up the protestors who’d / Come to show him up.” Listen, watch, and read.

Postscript: Oct. 3, 2014 — St Paul’s, Covent Garden, commonly known as the “actors’ Church,” now has a bench erected in memory of Peter Bayliss, thanks to Alan Cox and other admirers of Bayliss’s. (Here are some of the benches that line the garden path.)

Narration and montage by Alan Cox.

By Heathcote Williams

The Breatharians
Extract salts from the air and
Claim to eat nothing.

They are campaigning
To cure world hunger by such
Extreme strategies.

One, in St James’s
Church in Piccadilly, gave a talk.
She seemed translucent.

You could almost see
The altar through her body
While she lectured you.

She was impassioned:
“If no one eats, no one need starve!
Just live off smells, then

Famine won’t matter!”
She urged, “A food-free lifestyle!”
Some were taken in.

But Peter Bayliss
Caught her squirrelling Hob Nobs,
Saw her nibble them.

“Dunking them in tea!
In the vestry! What’s left for
Us to believe in?”

Peter famously
Followed each spiritual
Craze. He was gutted:

“She promised to make
Hunger history; followed
By poverty, then

“Celebrity – she
Was going to make that history
Too. I’d singled her out

“As the new Messiah!
Only this time a woman!
Oh my giddy aunt.

“…Now we’ve flushed her out,
D’you fancy tea at Fortnums
To fill the aching void?

“Delicious muffins –
Essential in one’s quest
For the secret of life.”

He led the way there.
We found an empty table
And sat down for tea.

“It’s the Queen’s grocer.
I come here to imagine
Paradise on earth.”

We discussed events.
“Have I told you, dear fellow,
Everyone in fact

Is crucially flawed?
A huge character failing.
A horrid blemish.

“A San Andreas
Fault-line of the soul…
Well, go on, go on.

Ask me what it is!
“Er.. oh…What is it, Peter?”
“That’s better, dear heart,”

(stage whisper)

“I’ll keep my voice down…
They think their hypocrisy
Is sexy! That’s it.

“Can you possibly
Credit man’s perversity!
So I see my role

“From this moment on –
Due to Breatharianism –
To disavouch them.

“To tell them they’re wrong.
(he licks his lips)
What a sweet epiphany –
All thanks to Hob Nobs!

‘Ex parvis saepe
Magnarum momenta
Rerum pendent.’

‘Things of consequence
Will often spring out at you
From trifling matters.

“And in this case, mark this,
It’s been just a few crumbs
From an oaty biscuit

In a forlorn room,
With piles of dusty hassocks,
That drew back the veil!

“That opened the doors
Of perception of heaven
And hell – charging us

With exposing false
Prophets. Now take off your shoes!
Let’s attune our feet

To enlightenment!
Let’s plant them all on the road
Towards Damascus!

A revelation
Is at hand! Can you feel it?
The Hob Nob’s a sign

We’ve been singled out
To receive certain signals… (looking up)
Yes, cucumber please.

Aaaah deliverance!
I always feel lightheaded
When I say goodbye

To one charlatan
Before seeking out the next.
Fortune cookies please!”

“We don’t have them sir.”
“What? we need their instructions
To know what to do!

“We’ve come specially
To this classy oasis
To find great insights!

Learn how the other
Half lives, as well as sampling
Her Majesty’s grub!”

“Fortune cookies please!”
“I’ve said we don’t have them sir.”
(Peter, darkly)
”That’s your misfortune!”.

(stage whisper – turning back)

“We’re being watched.
Can you see the manager?
See him signaling?

“Oh dear, drink your tea!
The men in white are en route.
Last time I was here

I levitated –
Well, more like yogic flying,
Then I smashed some cups.

And tried some streaking…
We may have to find somewhere
A bit more… spiritual.

“But, hush, steady on,
Not before I’ve had my say
On the state of things:

“Saints who let you down!
Take Geldof – why not –
As a case in point:
“‘Let’s stage a concert
For Africa (but with no
African players),

“A hundred thousand
Is Bob’s lecture fee to talk
On world poverty –

“Lives in three flash pads:
One’s hidden behind huge walls,
Cutting off a wood,

“With his properties
All registered abroad in
The Virgin Islands.

“‘Fee-eed the wor-orld’
And feed bank balances too-oo.
Hypocrisy rules.

What do you think he’s worth?
Well, it’s now thirty million –
Sir Bob’s wonga pile.

“Princess Diana?
Left millions to millionaires –
Quite forgot the poor.

“Bono of U2,
Campaigner for debt relief –
How’s his sainthood look?

“Hollow as a Polo
With his mint in tax havens
Not in Ireland,

“And his shares in ‘Forbes’?
The house mag for billionaires?
Yes, U2 Bono.

Is anything worse
Than people peddling street cred.
To line their pockets?

Comfortably dumb.
Capitalists aren’t unique –
Karl Marx would gamble

On the Stock Exchange;
Sent his girls to Finishing School.
Finished them off.

They both killed themselves:
Both Eleanor and Laura –
Both were suicides.

Karl Marx, did you know
The man lived off heiresses?
And Friedrich Engels?

He liked fox-hunting,
And owned a factory with
A child labour force.

When Marx was dying,
His housekeeper asked him what
He might have to say

For posterity.
Very angrily, Karl Marx threw
A slipper at her

And then Marx shouted,
“Go away, get out! Last words
Are for fools who’ve not

Said enough!” so
This was Marx’s last action:
But how prophetic

That ‘fuck off plus violence’ was
Marx’s last message.
Nasty bit of work.

“Mother Teresa? –
Cultivated unsavory,
Murderous dictators

“And sold skeletons
Of Calcutta’s poor in bulk
For fertilizer.

“Some people who help
People, prefer it if they’re
Kept helpless and poor,

“Whilst their own sainthood
Gives them opportunities
For helping themselves.

“HRH Prince Charles
Spends a thousand an hour
On his private jet

“Emitting 6 tons of CO2
To lecture Copenhagen
About climate change.

“Michael Moore’s new film
‘Capitalism,’ backed by
Goldman Sachs, made with

“Non-union labour,
Has the fitting subtitle
Of ‘A Love Story.’

Now Lady Gaga
Comes up with wristbands
To sell for Japan.

‘Nuclear earthquakes?!
Sure all my fans will help out’
And the cash goes where?

Not Fukushima.
So Gaga’s sued for millions.
Celebrity fraud.

Dishonest hoarders
Who pretend to be generous
As a wretched tax dodge.

What an endless stream
Crawling out of the woodwork!
No one cottons on.

“Millionaire Cameron
And millionaire Osborne say
‘We suffer with you:

“‘We can feel your pain.’
‘We’re all in this together.’
Rich busybodies,

“Whose inherited
Wealth cheats the poor of the perks
They’re heir to as well.

“The Sunday Times Rich List
Is the Hypocrite Spotters’ Bible:
Watch the billionaires,

“Displaying their wealth
But also boasting how much
They’re giving away.

(he chuckles)

Bill Gates gives billions
To charity but sadly
The charity’s his.

He gives it all to
His own tax-exempt outfit –
The Bill Gates Foundation.

Watch the rich blindside us
With all their cocktail-party,
Philanthropic toss.

“So tell me why, pray,
They’re in this list every year?
Growing richer still!?

“They keep their money!
Their donations are painless.
It is all hot air.

“‘Eat the rich’? They’d be
A complete disappointment
And cause flatulence…

“Yes, we’re leaving now.
Do you sell Hob Nobs by the way?
No? too down market.

“But you’ll waive the bill?
How good to know there’s no charge
For the secret of life…”

Then we were thrown out,
With Peter Bayliss barking
At security

Then at passers-by,
“Buy stale fog in crested jars!
“Free to the starving!”

Tiring of the pong
Of plutocrat tax-dodgers,
Such as the owners,

Of course, of Fortnum
And Mason itself, we left
Piccadilly, W 1.

The royal grocer
Would later be occupied
By UK-UnCut.

As if the Bayliss
Mischief might still be working
From beyond the grave –

With the building trashed,
Its staircase and floors all strewn
With broken biscuits.


Bono had the nerve
To sing Blake’s Jerusalem
At Glastonbury

While his bodyguards
Beat up the protestors who’d
Come to show him up.

The Breatharians’
Bad breath can get everywhere
Stifling the truth

But hypocrisy
Doesn’t stay sexy for long
It can’t escape disgust

However much
Some celebrity’s fragrance
Tries to disguise it.

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